Not-knowing

Another aspect of patience is the willingness to not know what’s coming. We actually never know what will happen in the future, but we seem to be constitutionally inclined to predict the future and then comment on our predictions immediately after they come true or don’t.

In perusing the news I save a lot of time and energy by skipping over headlines that predict the future. Sometimes it seems that half the media noise we get is about what’s expected. Who will win? What will happen with the economy? Blah blah blah.

Ironically, I sometimes get impatient when people want to talk about what will happen. I’ve been asked many times, as an American in a foreign country, who will win the US Presidential election. I have hopes, but I don’t know any better than you do. I do take the opportunity to observe that I’ve been wrong in all my predictions on this topic so far.

When we fill our minds with useless speculation we crowd out the possibility of mindfulness. But if we are willing to exist in a state of not-knowing what’s to come, we can be fully present for what is here now. We can connect through our body to the inputs that are rising and falling  – sounds, sights, physical sensations (internal and external), smells, tastes and the machinations of our conceptual thinking. Whether we’re remembering something from the past or hoping for something in the future, or attending to what is happening right now, we can experience these movements of the mind directly.

Sometimes it may help to label specific mind-moments, for example, “remembering” or “wishing” or “noticing” or “confusion” or “anxious  thought” or “boredom” or “fear”. Shinzen Young, a fine, veteran teacher of mindfulness once said that if one is in a distressed state, it can help to start labelling thoughts out loud. This works by bringing what is actually happening into our conscious minds.

One of the most important things we don’t know is what other people are thinking and feeling. Sometimes there are powerful clues, but often there are not. It is humbling to be clear with ourselves that other peoples’ karma and intentions are usually opaque. It is preferable to be gentle with others because we can’t know all their sensitivities.

Until we get used to it, there’s a feeling of insecurity about not-knowing. We are meaning-making animals; we create stories about why things happen when the causes are not apparent, even with regard to our own actions. But we can recognize this process as it unfolds and come back to don’t-know mind. There may be a feeling of relief in remembering that we don’t have to, and cannot, make sense of everything, and we are in control of hardly anything – really only our own words and actions.

2 Comments

Filed under Causes and results, Mindfulness, Patience

2 responses to “Not-knowing

  1. Priscilla

    Really enjoyed reading this Lynn. Very timely. Thank you.

  2. Laura

    This is a message I sorely needed to hear today – thank you, Lynn.

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